It’s impossible to condense 47 years of service in the US Senate, but here are four places where Senator Ted Kennedy’s legacy will be felt in society for decades to come.
Kennedy was an original cosponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Wheelchair ramps, assisted listening devices, more lenient acceptance of seeing eye dogs and other service animals, these are just a few of the societal changes that were a direct result of the ADA. “This is a proud day in the history of civil rights,” Kennedy said upon learning the act was to be passed. “It is difficult to believe that this Congress will enact a more far-reaching or more important bill.”
Kennedy called health care “the cause of my life,” and two sister bills reflected that. He was cosponsor of the Health Insurance Reform Act of 1995 and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) a year later. The bills ensured that Americans would have multiple points of access to health coverage and protection against penalties for having a preexisting medical condition. But there were other acts, too, including the State Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997, the groundbreaking Medicare prescription drug law in 2003, and the Massachusetts health care reform act in 2006 that put his state at the forefront of health care reform. The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act of 1990 was introduced by Kennedy in honor of a teenage boy who was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984 and died a little over five years later.
He did not cosponsor the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, the bill that required all states to develop standardized testing procedures to track student comprehension levels in reading, math, and science. But it’s indisputable that if Kennedy had not crossed the aisle to work with President George W. Bush, it never would have passed.
Sixteen times during Kennedy’s Senate tenure, from 1962-2009, the minimum wage was raised, against Republican opposition that it would have a negative impact on the economy. In 1962, it was $1.15 an hour. In 2009, it was $7.25. The issue is always debatable, but what is not debatable is Kennedy’s role in raising it. Again. And again.